Disney’s Carthay Circle and Blue Bayou restaurants
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Story and photos by Amy Guerra
Black and white pictures of Walt Disney dot the walls of the restaurant, each photo a silent comment on his legacy.
“It’s one of the few pictures of Mr. Disney holding a cigarette,” our guide tells us when we notice a picture of Disney with his two fingers outstretched to a point – the signature gesture every Disney employee has been trained to mimic. “Almost every other picture has been edited to take the cigarette out.”
There are more photos spread throughout each dining room, including the very first picture Disney took with Mickey Mouse, framed side-by-side with their very last picture together, taken just weeks before his death.
It’s the day before Valentine’s Day and the romanticism of Disney’s legacy has brought us to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park for a rare, childless vacation. We’ve opted to take a tour of one of Disney’s most highly regarded eating establishments, Carthay Circle Restaurant in Disney California Adventure Park. It’s a good place to start, given that Disneyland is gearing up to celebrate its 60th anniversary and the restaurant is steeped in Walt Disney history.
The restaurant is a replica of the Carthay Circle Theatre, where Walt Disney’s very first full-length production, Snow White, premiered on Dec. 21, 1937. A menu framed in the lobby from that night offers filet mignon dinners for a mere 60 cents.
The lounge offers handcrafted cocktails, a collection of craft beers and a sophisticated collection of appetizers ranging from deviled eggs with smoked salmon and lemon crème fraîche to a collection of sushi rolls and small plates. We order drinks and ascend the winding staircase to the richly decorated dining room.
At our server’s suggestion, we order the ceviche of blue cobia with avocado, tomatillo-cilantro essence and crisp plantain chips. The subtle sweetness of the plantain chips pairs beautifully with the flavorful acidity of the tomatillos and fish. For one entrée, we opt for the Moroccan-spiced salmon with roasted baby yams, sugar snap peas and a tangerine-date relish. For the other dish, we select the chicken and spinach ravioli in red pumpkin broth accompanied by chanterelle mushrooms and Nueske's ham. Both dishes are impeccably presented and delicious.
For dessert, our server brings us coffee in a French press and a caramel-chocolate turnover with housemade marshmallow and Carthay Theater popcorn ice cream. Tiny pieces of caramel corn dot the plate – a whimsical but delightful touch.
After lunch, we stroll through Disneyland, wandering through each store on Main Street before making our way towards Sleeping Beauty Castle. Towering only 75 feet above Fantasyland, the castle seems to be much larger because of its design. The Tabebuia trees that surround a statue of Walt Disney holding Mickey Mouse’s hand are in full bloom.
We take in our favorite rides in Frontierland, Tomorrowland and Adventureland before leaving to walk through Downtown Disney, a vibrant promenade teeming with shopping, dining and entertainment.
We still have time to spare before our dinner reservations, so we head to the Hearthstone Lounge at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. People are gathered around large fireplaces and a polished bar. A small table in the corner has the added benefit of a checkerboard and chess pieces, which we take advantage of for a bit.
We take the Disneyland Railroad into the heart of the park, stopping at New Orleans station. With another hour before our reservation time, we slip into Café Orleans, where a Creole band plays dinner music on a patio. Our backs to the impressive Mark Twain riverboat, we walk the tiny pathway that leads to the Blue Bayou Restaurant. Colorful Mardi Gras decorations are strung between the buildings and decorate the wrought iron lamps that light the way.
Guests of the Blue Bayou sit outdoors where it is always twilight. The first part of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride runs past the restaurant, and for a brief moment the ambience of the lagoon is shared by riders and diners alike.
The luxury here is intimately related to sitting down and having a slow, relaxing meal after a day filled with the bustle and excitement of visiting the park. We order quickly, afraid that the soft and irresistible sweet potato bread brought to our table will fill us. The establishment is markedly more fast-paced than the Carthay Circle Restaurant, but it is no less attuned to the impeccable service one tends to expect from Disney. In the spirit of the atmosphere, we order the spicy and robust Royal Street Seafood Jambalaya, a combination of shrimp, sustainable fish, Tasso ham, Andouille sausage and chicken, tossed with Cajun-style dirty rice. We also try the pan-seared, panko-crusted rack of lamb, which is served with Boursin cheese mashed potatoes, feta cheese and rosemary jus.
Content, we wander back into the lantern-lit streets of New Orleans Square before making our way back to our hotel, reluctant to leave a place that lives up to its reputation for being the “Happiest Place on Earth.”
Carthay Circle Restaurant is located on Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure Park. For menus, hours and to make a reservation, go to disneyland.disney.go.com/dining/disney-california-adventure/carthay-circle-restaurant/.
Blue Bayou Restaurant is located in New Orleans Square in Disneyland. For menus, hours and to make a reservation, go to disneyland.disney.go.com/dining/disneyland/blue-bayou-restaurant/
Amy Guerra is a criminal defense attorney practicing in Fresno. She has written for several publications throughout California and enjoys writing about the law, food, travel and all things Fresno.
Disneyland is kicking off its 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration on May 22. Several featured attractions in both parks, from the Matterhorn and Haunted Mansion to Soarin’ Over California and Critter Country, have been slightly remodeled for the occasion. The famous fireworks show has been completely reworked to include new projection technology and special effects. For more information about how this milestone will be commemorated, go to disneyland.disney.go.com/events-tours/60-years-diamond-anniversary-celebration/.